When former Houston Texans owner Bob McNair hired former Texans coach Bill O’Brien, it made a lot of sense - regardless of the end result. O’Brien was a hot prospect, allegedly pursued by many teams. He was coming off a turnaround of Penn State post-Jerry Sandusky’s horrific scandal. There was a lot of hype surrounding B’OB.
Fast forward to 2021. Bob McNair is no longer with us (RIP). Neither is Bill O’Brien. The hot candidate in the 2020-21 coaching search was Kansas City Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy. So when it came time to hire a head coach, it made total sense the Texans would bring in... David Culley?
While Culley might still become the greatest head coach in franchise history, the hiring of a man no one else was pursuing, no other team had promoted to coordinator, and who sorely lacked historical evidence pointing to great success leaves more questions than answers. Why did the Texans decide Culley was the guy who should take over?
Theory One: No One Else Wanted the Texans Head Coaching Job.
On the surface, it seems insane all the candidates (other than Culley) interviewed for the Texans head coaching position turned it down. The reality is probably more grey than black and white. Eric Bieniemy was rumored to want roster control. Maybe Jack Easterby wanted that for himself? Maybe Houston general manager Nick Caserio wasn’t willing to cede that to a first-time head coach? Maybe Bieniemy is smart enough to know he’s better off sticking with Andy Reid and the Hunts, one of the best families of owners in NFL history, instead of hitching his wagon to Cal “Tommy Boy” McNair?
Rumors swirled that other candidates may have asked for the dismissal of Jack Easterby. I mean, who wouldn’t based on what we all know about the wannabe turned VP? Would you happily take a job knowing a guy who had power over your livelihood knew jack squat about how to do his job and had a history of undermining everyone who came before you? #HardPass
A team hiring the only guy who would take the gig has happened more often than the NFL’s PR machine would like us to believe. Just look at the string of also-rans the Oakland Raiders had in the valley between Jon Gruden’s runs as coach. Dig through the history of coaches in Detroit, Cleveland, Tampa Bay, and, prior to Michael Bidwell taking over, the Cardinals. Just as with those teams, the current climate in Houston might carry the perception that the Texans are where coaching careers go to die.
Theory Two: Deshaun Watson Is Truly Gone.
While this is really an addendum to Theory One, it’s a big enough issue to warrant its own line. We all want to cling tenaciously to the tiny shred of hope that Watson will continue his career in battle red. However, there’s an overwhelming mountain of evidence to the contrary. When guys like Adam Schefter, Ian Rapoport, and other “in the know” NFL talking heads are convinced something is a foregone conclusion, it usually is. And, without Watson, the Texans’ gig is a wasteland of unnecessary drama, cap issues, draft pick deficits, roster holes, and unwanted interference from Jack Easterby.
Theory Three: Culley Really Is An Unpolished Gem of a Head Coach.
This one is a bit far-fetched, but as we discussed in the recent GroupThink regarding his hire, there have been previously unheralded, first-time head coaches who come out of nowhere and take a team to new heights. Granted, none have done it at age 65. Culley has many advocates; his stack of LORs (letter of recommendation) might reach the ceiling from Cal McNair’s desk. Oddly enough, most of those are from fellow coaches and front office people, with not so many from players.
Culley is allegedly the kind of guy that can sincerely talk people into just about anything. Maybe he can talk Watson into staying? At this point, if Watson does leave, no matter what Culley does, he can’t lose; without Watson, he’s totally set up to fail. Any success he has is a step up from where the Texans will be post-Watson.
Theory Four: The Houston Texans Need The Anti-Bill O’Brien In Order To Move Forward.
With stories of O’Brien yelling at assistant coaches, getting in sideline screaming matches with superstar J.J. Watt, and otherwise sucking all the fun out of the organization as he tightened his grip when he felt things slip through his fingers, O’Brien’s final culture was rumored to be very ugly. David Culley is the opposite of that. He encourages. He is a rah-rah kind of coach. In theory, he can motivate offensive coordinator Tim Kelly and defensive coordinator Lovie Smith to bring their best every week, instead of control-freaking them into a tailspin like his predecessor allegedly did.
Maybe Culley is the “culture change” Deshaun Watson asked for in his season finale presser.
Theory Five: Culley Was The Only Candidate Projected To Be Easterby’s Tail.
This also builds off Theory One but adds a different wrinkle. Guys like Robert Saleh, Eric Bieniemy, Joe Brady, Brandon Staley, Matt Eberflus, and Brian Daboll might present strong personalities that someone like Caserio instantly knew wouldn’t bend to Easterby’s will. As the general manager, if you saw fireworks between your potential head coach and your wannabe-turned-VP, you might look somewhere else.
Culley doesn’t have a history of getting in fiery sideline battles with players. He doesn’t have a reputation as someone hard to get along with. In fact, after 27 years in the NFL, he might just about do anything you ask when given the brass ring of head coaching status. To see this sort of relational dynamic in play, look no further than Barry Switzer when he took over the Dallas Cowboys from Jimmy Johnson. Switzer was the perfect tail to Jerry Jones’ dog. When Jones said jump, Switzer was in the air before asking how high. Culley might just be the tail Easterby’s dog needs.
While we really want Theory Three or Four to ring true, only time will tell.